A colorful, hand-drawn map of SF Bay showing some lighthouses.

Illustration by Noemesha Williams, Park Guide

By Kristal Ip, Park Guide (former)

Have you met one of San Francisco's oldest and most infamous residents yet? You will find that this particular resident is usually chilly and a little wet. You can watch it creep over the land and water, blocking the sun and covering up your view. Sailors dislike it, but some plants need it...Yes, I'm talking about FOG!

Whether or not you like fog, it is a part of the city, along with the steep hills, barking sea lions, and diverse cultures. Many of the plants here have adapted to the fog and use it as a source of water. Fog has also played a big role in our maritime history. Read these short stories to find out more!

Uncovering the Secret Bay
Starting in the 1500s, European explorers sailed to California, discovering the ports of San Diego, Monterey and Point Reyes. But they never found San Francisco Bay because the entrance was always covered in fog! Not until 1769 did Europeans, travelling on foot and horseback, finally spy what one man said was "the best harbor I have seen on this coast north of Cape Horn." The funny thing was, they did not discover the Bay from the water - they saw it from the top of a mountain.

Shipwrecks and Lighthouses
If you've ever been in a car on a foggy day, you know how hard it can be to see and drive. Navigating ships in foggy weather is difficult too.
-In 1901, a passenger steamship named City of Rio de Janeiro was heading into San Francisco from Hong Kong. The fog was very thick and the ship hit a reef. Just eight minutes later, the ship sank, and all 128 people aboard died. It was the worst shipwreck in SF history. Five years later a lighthouse was built on Mile Rock near the site of the crash to prevent future wrecks.
-A SF shipyard built two oil tankers in 1914: the Frank Buck and the Lyman Stewart. They both wrecked at the same spot near the new Mile Rock lighthouse! The Lyman Stewart collided with another ship in heavy fog in 1922. Fifteen years later on another foggy day, the Frank Buck suffered the same fate.

Finding Beauty in the Fog
Fog can be dangerous but also inspiring. Poet George Sterling said SF is, "the cool, grey city of love." And Ambrose Bierce wrote, "This city is a point upon a map of fog." Photographer Eric Cheng wrote, "I have seen few things as beautiful as a 6:30am lift-off from SF International Airport in the autumn. From above, the rippled fog layer laps against the shores of the foothills like a voluminous cotton ocean."

The Golden Gate Bridge with fog forming below the main deck.
This photo was taken by Park Guide Kristal Ip from Hyde Street Pier. She was looking west toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Isn't it an awesome view? Isn't the fog pretty the way it's forming just below the main deck of the bridge? Well, that can change in a matter of minutes especially during the spring and summer. Look at the photo below.


A bank of fog obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge.
Yikes, now you can just about see the very top of the North Tower of the Bridge. Grab your hat and coat, SF's natural air conditioning has arrived!!!


Last updated: November 9, 2017

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